The oft-quoted adage “We plan; God laughs” comes to mind when contemplating mission. What once were effective techniques for ministries—building relationships, planning mission goals, and conducting mission—will not continue forever without tweaking them. Over the years we have needed to constantly re-evaluate our direction in Salvadoran ministries.
This is becoming particularly true as my partner and I age and develop physical limitations. (Notice I did NOT say “age out.”) Days are now consumed with doctors’ and PT appointments. Besides, who can plan ahead like we once did? Regretfully we realize we can no longer make the annual pilgrimages to El Salvador to personally select scholarship students, to visit our pastors and churches, to take local delegations of young people and other interested persons to experience the reality in which Salvadorans live, to conduct in-person interviews for our website, to join others who partner in Salvadoran ministries, to visit our Salvadoran friends and their families, and to visit our past projects (well-drilling, sanitation, solar cells). That is a hard pill to swallow.
Will we simply give up? Never! The pandemic added one more layer to muddy the mission waters, but it also forced the world to re-think how to function and communicate. What do you do when you cannot physically be in the country? Fortunately, prior to the pandemic we had made the decision to select an in-country scholarship coordinator. That has turned out to be fortuitous for our students as well as our programming. It provides consistency in programming, familiarity to students, and trust and accountability for all concerned. We love being part of the scholarship students’ WhatsApp groups to find out what they are doing and often chime in to support them. We have also been trying to conduct a few Skype and WhatsApp interviews, even three-party/three country ones which have been new and exciting adventures.
Another new change happened in 2022. My partner and I have been wanting to somehow address the local Hispanic community for some time but were at a loss as to how to do so. We see them in our area—often working the shadows—in the kitchens of our diners, in the local fruit orchards, in the landscaping groups, and simply walking along the roads.
Do they have opportunities to nourish their faith?
A small church literally down the road from my home went up for sale. Early in the fall I spotted a lengthy article in the local newspaper. A group purchased the church to begin the only Spanish-speaking ministry in our area to serve as a Spanish-speaking church. It gave the date of its first service.
Light bulbs went on. Perhaps we can partner with a local Hispanic church as a way of extending our outreach on a local level. It was just a thought. I talked to my partner, “How would you like to visit . . .?” We arrived early to introduce ourselves to the pastor and spent the next two hours enjoying the music punctuated with lots of blowing of a ram’s horn. THEN they began reading the scriptures. With everything in Spanish and no sermon in sight, we left and decided to re-schedule an individual meeting (in English) with the church’s pastor after a couple of months to get a better feel for its ministry.
In mid-January in her office, we met the pastor who was soon joined by her supervisor. We gave a copy of one of our booklets of stories explaining our work in El Salvador and asked if this church has Salvadoran members in its midst. The pastor is from Puerto Rico, and her members are from several Central American countries, including El Salvador, as well as from Caribbean islands and Venezuela. Currently they are coming from a 30-minute drive to worship here. From the time we worshipped until now, the flock has grown considerably.
We explained we may have common cause in caring for the Hispanic community and are interested in how this new ministry in our own area is going. Their needs are varied and GREAT—
food, clothing, housing, transportation, medical services, furniture, legal services. Many of them are at a disadvantage due to language barriers. The pastor is unfamiliar with established local agencies already which can be of assistance, so we talked about some we know and promised to do some digging and follow-up with more information to save her some time and legwork, since she works another part-time job.
By reaching out to our contacts, we discovered we had more connections in the community than we realized; one person would offer up another name and that person another one, and we soon had a network of agencies, websites, phone numbers, addresses, and contacts to offer the pastor. Don was busy looking into local legal services for its members. I spoke with several persons in our church to share the needs of this local fledgling church comprised of marginalized people asking for any additional advice. They began addressing the food, clothing, and laundry needs immediately. We offered to invite their youth into our youth activities.
We encouraged their pastor to sign up for community information her members may benefit from such as children’s summer library programs and sent a county directory of human services. The pastor has been very appreciative of our support. When I contacted the pastor of the Hispanic church about exploring an idea, without even knowing what it was, her confident reply to me was, “Alleluia! I’m pretty sure it’s an awesome idea. Blessings.”
In the spring the pastor invited some of us to a meal at her church. Everyone welcomed us with open arms. I had to smile when horchata was served. This is a very familiar Salvadoran drink our guest house owner makes for us. It is a popular rice-based beverage made with milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon.
This local outreach was never something we planned on doing, but when we saw a local need, we immediately jumped in and adapted our mission in order to reach out and minister to a local need.
Members of the Hispanic church cooked and served a traditional Latin meal at our church for the local homeless community. We interviewed a family to get a perspective from “the other side” of the border. And the pastor even insisted on visiting me after ankle surgery despite her own heavy schedule. She is now heavily involved in ecumenical groups within the community including one addressing local human trafficking of undocumented youth. Worship services are so full they are at the point of needing to add a second service and have already added a satellite one in another city rather than bus them to this church. Their first VBS program was such a success of over twenty energetic children that they are already projecting fifty by next year. Our educational ministry will help fund their supplies needed.
We hope to continue to deepen our relationship with our local neighbor, this fledgling Spanish-speaking congregation. Through knowing individuals from another culture and being willing to form relationships with them, barriers and prejudices dissolve, and understanding can take place.
Sometimes the stars just line up. Perhaps we can adapt the original adage in the first sentence to read, “When we don’t plan but respond to a need, God smiles.”